Michael Maxwell – Partner, Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting
In my last blog, I outlined a step by step process for preparing to reopen your restaurants. Getting a handle on your finances, applying for aid and re-engineering your business to be bulletproof are all important tasks that need to get done, but it looks like that still is going to leave us with a lot of free time on our hands. For restaurateurs, free time with nothing to do is worse than reading horrible yelp reviews while running 40-minute ticket times. Free time is time to worry. Here are some ways to stay positive and to stay sane while we wait for someone to tell us that we can reopen our businesses.
Get Your Life Right. Start by lowering your caffeine intake. The restaurant business breeds the need for coffee and energy drinks. Caffeine allows us to stay alert and react quickly in our ever-changing environment. That environment is definitely not changing so quickly now, and all that caffeine only makes things worse. Try drinking more water, it’s a much better alternative.
Most of us have a new friend, and that friend is our kitchen. Our next new friend is destined to be 15 new pounds if we are not careful. The last time I ate three meals a day at home I was four years old. Trying to decide what to eat for each of those meals in itself is stressful and just leads to nonstop snacking. You should begin each week with a detailed list of what you will be eating each meal for all seven days. Search the internet for new recipes and get creative or swap recipes with all of your restaurant friends. Assume that there will be leftovers from Monday’s dinner and work them into Wednesday’s lunch. Plan on saving leftovers from Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to make soup on Thursday. Challenge yourself to waste nothing. Then write a grocery list and buy only the things needed for those meals. Each week your meals get better, your stress lowers, you feel healthier, and you save money. I have been at this for 3 weeks for 2 people and my weekly grocery bill has gone from $285 to $95.
Remember to get some exercise. I know everyone tells you to exercise, but maybe that’s because it’s a really good thing. It lowers stress, increases your energy, and helps with an overall positive attitude. During this time when we are all shut up inside, try to get that exercise done outside. My favorite time of day is early morning just as the sun is coming up. It’s a great time to clear your head, listen to the silence around you and really just enjoy the beauty of a new day. Just as the sun is going down is another great time. It helps you to release the tension of the day and get a good night’s sleep.
While this reads like some self-help, get fit diet, it really isn’t. It’s ok to start your day with a cup of coffee, add German chocolate brownies into your meal planning, and take one hour to complete a half mile jog. Remember this is about eliminating stress, staying active, and feeling good about the future. The health benefits are just a great byproduct.
Limit Negative Influences. If you watch the news all day long you are going to be a miserable person. Limit your news time to once or twice a day, get the information you need, and turn your tv off. Pick the sources you feel are most reliable and make them your only sources. In other words, stop clicking through the channels looking for something to disagree with.
Controlling your social media interaction is just as important. Every time you see a post that makes you angry, stop following or block that person. Avoid political and religious conversations at all costs. They are much more deadly than COVID-19. Right now, your social media should consist of new ways to pickle turnips, funny things cats and dogs do, and stories about random acts of kindness.
Stay in Touch. Consistent positive human interaction helps to boost your immune system (I didn’t just make that up). Call, text, facetime, chat. Use your favorite method of connecting with other people. Friends are more important than ever right now and for the first time in history we are all going through the same things. This commonality can make friendships stronger than ever.
Remember that feeling you got when the person you worked with 12 years ago found you and sent you a Facebook friend request and how much fun it was to catch up on the last 12 years? Share that feeling with others. Look for people you haven’t seen in a long time. Reconnect with friends and family. It will be good for both of you.
Get to know your neighbors, wave at everyone you see. Meet at your mailboxes and share suggestions on what to binge on Netflix. It’s easy to make work calls our only social interaction right now. Don’t let that happen and remember there are still plenty of things to laugh about.
Do Something Good for Someone. Tip the delivery guy a little more, leave cookies for the mailman, tell the cashier at the grocery store how much you appreciate them and give them a Starbucks gift card. Today I just received a box of Easter candy in the mail from someone I haven’t seen in two years. All these gestures are small, but it reminds people they are not alone and that they are seen. It makes them feel good and it makes you feel good too.
Do Something Good for Yourself. Think about all the things you always wanted to do if you only had time. Well, you have time now. Restaurant people are creative people, all in different ways but it is our creativity that draws us to this industry. If you want to stay within the industry then take time to write new recipes, create new cocktails, or learn more about the chemistry of baking. You can plant a garden, even a small one in containers and enjoy fresh tomatoes and cucumbers all summer long. Or you can master hydroponics and grow herbs in water in your kitchen.
If you want to venture into new territory, then go ahead and write those short stories that have been in your head for years. Paint your house, refinish furniture, learn to play the banjo. It doesn’t really matter as long as it is something you always thought about doing. You have the ability to create new adventures without ever leaving your home and you finally have the time to do it.
The more I think about it the more I realize this is not only a recipe for staying sane during hard times and isolation, it’s a recipe for enriching your life. Habits you create now can stay with you a month or two from now when it’s back to the daily grind of scorching soup and forgetting to order lemons. These habits can help you to maintain balance between your personal and professional life and that’s the one thing that we really are not good at. Remember none of the above will happen unless you write things down and set goals for the week. Map out on your calendar when you will plan meals, when you will cook, when you will exercise, when you intend to connect with old friends, etc. This process keeps us operating from routines, goals, and deadlines, but at the same times helps to relieve stress, makes us healthier and above all keeps us sane during difficult times.